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Health Innovations: Growing Organs Using Plants

Health Innovations: Growing Organs Using Plants
August 18
14:35 2016

Synthetic organs, which man-made devices that are implanted into the human body, are expensive and required a lot of maintenance.

With that in mind, scientists have been on the lookout for a more cost-effective alternative. Enter, the concept of plant-based organs, a form of biohacking. Biohacking is the “do-it-yourself biology, a social movement in which individuals and organizations pursue biology and life science with tools equivalent to those of professional labs.”

These organs are being created with HeLa cells, culture offspring of cervical cancer and apple cells.

“The apple ear was created as an artistic statement, referring to a famous case of a human ear that was grafted onto a mouse’s back, and its choice of HeLa cells was intentionally provocative. But the fusion of plant and animal it represents holds promise for regenerative medicine, in which defective body parts may be replaced by engineered alternatives,” writes the Atlantic.

Formerly the scientific focus has been on other animals like pigs, that share similar organs to humans. But, now the plant kingdom is now being looked at as an option. Plant cells are less expensive and offer several different architectures.

The major challenge of organ creation is that researchers are having trouble finding materials that can hold an organ’s shape, while hosting new cells within the body.

Synthetic (which is often a temporary solution prior to receiving a donor) and donor organs are wildly expensive to obtain and maintain. Most people cannot afford them and researchers have to dish out some major dough to get the resources needed to develop them. “For example, few people can spend $800 per cubic centimeter of human decellularized dermal allograft tissue to reconstruct a badly torn rotator cuff in the shoulder, but at less than 1 cent, the same amount of apple is well within reach,” writes the Atlantic.

So how are these plant-based organs created? The framework of an apple is physically manipulated– whereas the plant cells are stretched with lasers, prodded with needles and molded into shapes by being placed in containers.

“Take a McIntosh red apple from the grocery store (or a home garden), slice it and wash it with soap, then sterilize it with boiling water, like so, and you have a cellulose mesh ready for human cells. Implanted under skin, the scaffolding quickly fills with cells from the surrounding tissue, and blood vessels soon follow. After eight weeks it is still compatible with the body, with no attempt by the immune system to reject it. The plant segment is brought to life as part of an animal,” writes the Atlantic.

This is a lot easier said than done. These procedures still have to be approved through trial phases by regulatory agencies. However, with less profit to be made it’s likely that the clinical testing will have to be done in private sectors. “Globally available, locally producible, and inexpensive biomaterials could be a goal picked up by philanthropists,” writes the Atlantic.

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Kerri Adams

Kerri Adams

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